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March 13, 2009

Seeing Watchmen (with some spoilery stuff further on)

Slightly revised moon landingI finally saw Watchmen at the iMax last night. Should you see it? I think it depends on your demographic group. Obviously, if you're a total Watchmen fanboi, you'll probably want to see this movie. You are likely, based on my experience and that of others I've spoken to, to feel that Zach Snyder has done a pretty decent job on the whole with the material, and it could have been a great deal worse. If you didn't think much of the graphic novel, you are unlikely to find the film to your tastes; it is at least as downbeat, and the violence is just as graphic but more in your face and it goes on for longer. If you've not read the graphic novel, then there seem to be a range of reactions. I have now seen several reports from thoughtful SF fans who are very impressed. I think Roger Ebert is the most notable of these, and I was just astonished that he hadn't previously read the graphic novel. But others find it unpleasant and unconvincing, and it's clear that many ordinary filmgoers are just bemused.

I enjoyed it. I thought the length was fine but the pacing was just a little sedate at times. Obviously much is cut but I didn't think the movie suffered too much. I would have liked slightly sharper editing and two extra brief scenes that I think are critical. The first is "Where did Rorschach get his mask from?" and the second is an establishing shot early on that shows Ozy with Bubastis and demonstrates that just as the other heroes are basically friendless, he is a mad villain who only loves his cat. The first is a nice to have, but the second is I think critical setup for Ozy using Bubastis to lure Jon into the intrinsic field subtractor.

I thought most of the changes were good. I don't miss the squid at all. A friend pointed out that the dialogue is much worse in any lines that Alan Moore didn't write, and that's quite true. My main concern about the new ending is that in the original, you are I think supposed to conclude that were Rorshach's journal to be published, the fragile peace would collapse; the question is whether it will be published or not. In the movie, Ozy's explanation for the ending is so utterly convincing that it seems to me implausible that Rorschach's journal would have any effect at all.

The one exception on changes was the final scene between Laurie and Sally, which my husband said "felt like it came from a totally different movie". That's the one thing I need to go back and search the novel for, because I know that the scene happens but I cannot believe that Moore would write any dialogue that bad.

I am a total Watchmen fanboi, so I noticed lots of places where Snyder didn't pick up some of my favourite things from the book. For example, the film is still extraordinarily episodic, but the 'fearful symmetry' is lost from that section; would it have been so hard to retain it? And the panel where the police observe that there's something in the air -- there is, and it's a giant Gunga Diner airship. In the movie the panel is there, and the airship is there, but the line isn't.

The look of the movie is very impressive. The costumes, sets, lighting and blocking are all superb. We knew from the blogs and trailers that the exterior scenes had been recreated very faithfully but I was impressed by the 80s detail in, well, everything. I also liked the use of blatantly obvious music choices; one of these (All Along the Watchtower) comes directly from the novel, and I was very sad that they didn't use "These Foolish Things", which is the song I most associate with Watchmen (presumably licensing). The costumes have been updated to reflect trends in superhero costumes in movies; I think that was a smart choice. The one area where the film fails is in makeup; the aging makeup is desperately unconvincing and the prosthetics are awful. I am not quite sure why this happened in a film where so much money was spent otherwise.

The acting was variable. Jackie Earle Haley is terrific as Rorschach, and I also liked Billy Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Malin Akerman was not by any means as bad as I had feared from other reviews, but a better actress could have got more from this part. Would a better actress have taken her kit off, though? I would have preferred to see Dan Dreiberg played by an older actor in worse shape than Patrick Wilson; he still looks far too convincingly superheroic in his owl suit. As for Matthew Goode, he has said in interviews that Ozymandias is intended to have ambiguous sexuality. Why, therefore, was he as camp as Butlins, and why the 'boys' folder on his computer? Ozymandias could have been fitter, smarter, and still most probably gay.

Everyone loves the credits sequence, and I'm no exception. But I have two questions. Why do we see Batman posters on the wall in the scene when Nite Owl I saves Bruce Wayne's parents from the mugger? And what has been changed in the Kent State scene?

Finally, one question about the real world. I have always wanted a Bubastis action figure. Surely I can't be the only one? Why is nobody doing this?

Posted by Alison Scott at March 13, 2009 02:11 PM


The final scene annoyed the hell out of me.

Originally it's Veidt's "human" scene - where he turns to John and says "I did the right thing, didn't I? In the end?" and John says "In the end? Nothing ever ends." and it's _perfect_.

Instead we got a mangled mess of bad dialogue.

Posted by: Andrew Ducker [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 14, 2009 11:31 AM

Oh, yes, you're quite right about that.

Posted by: Alison Scott at March 15, 2009 12:45 AM

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